When Curtis and I got married we swore we wouldn’t have a Christmas baby. Our anniversary is three days after Christmas and we felt the holiday week was busy enough it wouldn’t be kind to saddle a kid with a holiday birthday.
Such precise family planning was, we discovered, a little naïve. Four years later we placed our newborn baby under the Christmas tree, then swaddled her up and took her to her first Christmas Eve service. She slept through the carols while I cried, wondering how I could possibly protect and raise this precious tiny person in my arms.
Emily never seemed to mind her seasonal birthday. In fact, she thrived as though she were made for this holiday, the most musical time of the year.
Between piano, choir and church performances, December was soon packed with rehearsals, recitals and concerts. Last year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas she had seven performances, with numerous rehearsals as well.
She loved every minute of it. So did I. Listening to her practice and perform helped me slow down and savor the sound of the season. It opened my heart to the holiday and filled me with joy in a way nothing else could.
Music, especially music played by someone you love, is an elixir more potent and pleasurable than any holiday nog. Emily’s fingers could caress the keys and mimic my exact mood. She could also change it, evoking in me the emotion she poured out as she played.
And when I watched her eyes light up whenever she sang, I felt my heart harmonize.
So, this year the silence weighs heavy, a dreary, sodden coat. For the first time in 17 years, Emily isn’t home for the holidays.
We knew this when she signed up for her study abroad but I’ll admit, I’m envious of all the parents who will hug their college kids, make their favorite meals and open gifts together on Christmas morning.
I’m also more aware of the worry that must be constantly carried by parents whose sons and daughters serve in war zones, and the unquenchable yearning of parents whose children have died. I’ll see my daughter in six short months and meanwhile, she’s having a life-changing experience. My longing pales when held aside theirs.
Besides, I’m happy for Em. My Christmas baby is in Germany, experiencing a culture rich in Christmas tradition while making wonderful memories she’ll cherish forever.
Still, I miss her. Every tradition feels like a holiday wreath, beautiful as ever but with an enormous hole in the middle.
I missed her when we decorated the tree, Christmas music blaring in the background. Each time I pulled out an ornament with her name or face on the front, I felt that twinge. Looking at me nervously, one son told me I couldn’t cry, because then he might. So I gave him two hugs, one for him plus the hug I couldn’t give his sister.
I missed her when a colleague handed me the flier for Christmas Tree Elegance, an event Emily and I attended together. I missed her when we drove down Keller Road to see the Christmas lights. I missed her when Curtis and I went shopping for presents. Although we mailed a package overseas, steep international shipping rates meant she got far less than other years.
But more than anything, I miss her music. I miss lying on the couch, watching the lights on the tree while she plays the piano, composing arrangements of classical music that segue into carols, then into original melodies and back again. I miss joining her on the bench to sing and play along. I miss attending concert after concert, watching her accompany the high school choirs, watching her sing.
Facing this month without attending any musical performances became too much, so last week my mom and I attended the Spokane Area Youth Choirs Christmas concert. The sound of their clear voices soaring in the sanctuary was as beautiful as ever, with a couple of the songs making my spine shiver. It was good to go and I know Emily had hoped we would. But I missed searching for her face and smiling in response to the joy she expresses whenever she sings.
The rest of the holidays will be filled with other moments of missing her, I know, especially her birthday and Christmas day. But I think I’ve found the best way to weather the sadness woven into the joy of this season. I’ll embrace it with music. I’ll play and listen to the minor keys and melancholy tunes, then let them move me through the mood and into the cheer of more festive jingles and upbeat melodies.
That’s the thing about Christmas music. It covers the emotional spectrum. It’s also what my Christmas baby would do.